November 20, 2017 — In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis spoke incisively about our world’s environmental crisis. He called us all to become people of compassionate care for the planet. So, when Loyola University Chicago Theology Professor Michael Schuck and IES Dean Nancy Tuchman found themselves in St. Peter’s Square in September, they listened closely. For them, Pope Francis’s encyclical came at a crucial time in the development of Healing Earth, a free online environmental science textbook that they co-edit and have spent five years developing.
“He spoke of esperanza, hope.” Their front row location near the pope during his Wednesday audience was breathtaking. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world filled St. Peter’s Square behind them. Drs. Schuck and Tuchman watched as Pope Francis entered the square, moved through the masses, and ended up a few feet away from them to deliver his weekly message. “This pope is my hero” says Tuchman. “He’s not only a solid-gold ethical world leader, but he is spot-on about our need to care for our environment. Laudato Si’ was very important for Healing Earth. It’s a good connection and inspiration to this project.”
Dean Tuchman and Professor Schuck acquired their special spot near the pope because their project, Healing Earth, was one of four receiving the Vatican’s Expanded Reason Award. The award, given through a partnership between the Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation and the University Francisco de Vitoria in Spain, came with the opportunity to meet the pope, participate in a two-day awards conference, and receive a €25,000 ($29,500) honorarium.
For the award presenters, ‘Expanded Reason’ is an effort at integrating multiple ways of reasoning on a single topic, such as bringing together science and theology in a discussion about environmental sustainability, or economics and Roman Catholic social thought in an understanding of just entrepreneurship. This effort stands in contrast to the tendency in contemporary scholarship to remain isolated within one’s own area of specialization. During his time as cardinal and then pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI worked to encourage scholars to expand their imaginations and their conversation partners. “Pope Benedict XVI was convinced that what we define as reason in the Western world is too narrow,” says Schuck. “He encouraged the creation of a Vatican Foundation to bring the humanities and sciences into conversation, to more effectively address the complex problems of today’s world.”
“We know how necessary it is to educate students as whole persons — as intellectually inquisitive, morally developing, and spiritually graced human beings. That is the trademark of a Jesuit education. But we also know that there are few teaching resources that can guide exploration of the scientific, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of today’s environmental challenges in one textbook,” says Schuck.
Healing Earth was designed to meet that need. Healing Earth is a free-access online textbook in environmental science, ethics, spirituality, and action designed for upper level secondary school students, beginning college and university students, and adult learners. It embodies the integral ecology and interdisciplinary approach that Pope Francis discusses in his encyclical and that Pope Benedict XVI champions through this award, as well as the Jesuit response to throwaway culture and climate change.
Since 2012, over 100 scholars have contributed insight or written portions of the text. These scholars come from a variety of disciplines including ecology, theology, biology, physics, chemistry, and philosophy. To date, the book is used by over 85 teachers in a variety of classrooms in 19 countries and includes a Spanish translation.
What’s next for Healing Earth? Both Tuchman and Schuck agree that the book needs to be translated into French and Polish, and much of the prize money will be spent on improving the technology platform. Which is why when it came time for the papal blessing of the objects, Tuchman held up her cell phone. “I pulled up Healing Earth on my phone in hopes that the pope’s blessing might grace the future of the Healing Earth project.”
To learn more about Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, click here